Friday, May 30, 2008

The Game That Kick-Started the Season

. . .Once-Balding Italian's roommate, our other neighbor, Buttercream had recently lost his virginity during first semester. Understandably, he was proud of this milestone. We called him Buttercream because his initials were B.C., the same initials used to denote the 'butter cream' at a local bakery The Greying Writer had worked at for a period of time in the fall. For undisclosed reasons he was fired before Christmas. He began calling him Buttercream and the rest of us followed suit, mostly because The Greying Writer had a way of pushing people's buttons for the amusement of others. But Buttercream enjoyed the name after a while, and sadly it has become one of the more sensible nicknames any of us have once had.

Buttercream had also recently activated into his fraternity and was unable to play on our intramural basketball team. He learned a handshake and a couple of songs about drinking beer in the process. This they felt would lead to being drunk and sleeping with loads of women. I preferred to skip the middle step and go right to the drinking and trying to sleep with loads of woman. To save any suspense, I failed on the latter. Buttercream was enjoying his freshman year, and when not playing baseball, was attending different fraternity functions. He would take different girls on weekend getaways with the fraternity and then return on Monday to tell us of upon the sexual escapades he had embarked. Apparently these fraternities were on to something with weekend getaways.

It was the second week of the season and we had added two new guys onto the team. The Long-Armed Hippie was an extremely talented player, and competed with Slow-Release each night for top player honors. He was extremely long, a great shooter from anywhere on the court, a decent ball handler, good passer, and great defender. He had recently deactivated from his fraternity. Mute Bruce Bowen was a good friend of Slow Release and a cousin of Metrosexual Cowboy. He never spoke, and only shot threes from the corners. However, that's where the comparison to Bruce Bowen ends because he played shit defense. Metrosexual Cowboy was just about my least favorite person on the planet during that time. He played little, shot too much, and spray-tanned twice a day. His own stories are left for another time and place.

We were playing an athletic fraternity team without much basketball experience. It would be a different test for us, but a chance to play more organized basketball and work on our half-court defense and zone offense. I'm not an advocate of any zone in any pick-up basketball game, but I have to admit that it's a smart move in a C-League game because the chances that we shoot well from behind the arc is slim. The Baseball Player and The Athlete noticed the zone right away and called a timeout to get us set up in a zone offense. It consists of three guys quickly moving the ball around the perimeter with one guy running baseline and another cutting to the elbow of the lane. We ran it effectively, but still had to settle for looks from three. Luckily, V-Neck, Mute Bruce Bowen, Long-Armed Hippie, and myself were able to knock down some open looks and give us a comfortable 20 point lead to maintain throught the game. I only contributed 6 points, but it felt good to feel like my shot was starting to drop and I felt more comfortable in the course of the game. Any of our misses were cleaned up by The Insane Fifth-Year Senior and Faceman. It was a dominating performance, against a good group of athletic guys. It gave us the confidence we needed to carry into next week's battle against one of the best teams in the league. But for the time being we celebrated our win back at the dorms.

Buttercream convinced me to throw in a dip while we played some video games and drank a few beers in his room. After hearing of his sexual explorations through heavily trampled area over the weekend, I did the usual, and began trying to convince him he had either 1) gotten someone pregnant and would have to drop out of school to support the child, or 2) had contracted an STD and would be rotting in two months. After a while, he visibly seemed nervous, and it was satisfaction to know he would have trouble sleeping that night after laughing his ass off at the agony I was in after dipping.

But no matter what I said had had gotten off to a great start in college. Only in terms of sleeping with promiscuous woman whom he barely knew, but it was still a good start. Likewise we had handedly beaten a team that could have given us a much better game. We also felt like we were off to a good start.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Game That Told Us Nothing About Ourselves as a Team

. . .We began our first game of the season in a full court press. It took less than three minutes into the first half for us to build a 15 point lead. We were playing one of the worst teams in the league. We knew it and they knew it.

Earlier that day The Greying Writer, The Baseball Player and I were sitting in our Cultural Anthropology class. It filled a humanities requirement and the teacher was full-bodied in all the right ways. Otherwise, I didn't really see the point in cultural anthropology. In 20 years it will be similar to taking a Cartography class. It was the beginning of winter, and thus much easier for 18-year old freshman to pay attention in class. Most figures are hidden beneath a deep layer of hooded sweatshirts and Northface fleeces. Extremely full-bodied girls have an advantage in the winter because their figures are much more discernable underneath the sweatshirts and coats. Our teacher was no exception. She had no affect on The Greying Writer, his type is more likely to be found in a boys Calvin Klein ad. She kept my attention, and made the class more enjoyable, but I was thinking more about the game that night. The Baseball Player got the highest grade of his life in that class and broke the record for number of erections in a span of 75 minutes.

After class I met up with Faceman, The Phoenix, and The Puppet Master for a light workout and shoot-around. The Puppet Master spent the time like usual, starting at the top of the key, taking a couple dribbles with a spin move through the lane, and then slamming the ball off the backboard as hard as he could and then laughing. He cared little for preparation that day. The rest of us worked off the rust and all felt confident in our ability to knock down open jumpers later that night. The Puppet Master told me I was one-dimensional, purely a spot-up shooter. I took offense to the statement, but knew it to be mostly true. I decided to prove him wrong later that night.

We had run up a 20 point lead midway through the first half and had not set up a half court offense yet. At the urging of The Baseball Player we slowed down the tempo and decided to work on running an offense, something we thought would be useful against better competition. It wasn't fluid, and resulted in settling for a lot of contested three pointers. I botched my first couple of attempts, and was unable to get in the flow of the offense. I can usually tell when my shot isn't going to fall and will resort to staying along the baseline and set screens for guys who have a hot hand. Slow-Release, a sophomore, emerged as our best and most consistent scorer. He was a reliable three point shooter with an extremely slow release. He had a great shot fake and could slice through the lane and finish around the rim. Faceman and Insane Fifth Year Senior were stalwarts on defense. They both could guard four different players on the court and rebounded the ball without mercy. V-Neck a fellow freshman was also a talented inside scorer who rebounded extremely well. He often tried to shoot from the perimeter, but it was not his game, and after two or three more attempts than we would have liked he would start to dominate the post on offense. I found myself developing into the secondary ballhandler and one of the better entry-passers on the team. I wouldn't be putting up impressive statlines or taking any game winning shots.

We still ran when given the opportunities, and were often afforded them with high pressure on the ball handler. I got out into the open court after a steal and prepared myself for a controlled layup. It caused me to slow down and allow a reckless opponent to catch up and make the shot more difficult than it should have been. He jumped from behind and I shifted my body to draw contact but he avoided any significant disruption. His armes flailed at the ball and my arms, but I got the shot off into the bottom side of the rim. It shot back down at me and ricocheted out of bounds. Laughs poured in from the sidelines as we were all having fun at this point - up by over 40. I chuckled and tried to explain the misfire, but it was lost on deaf ears. It was the first gaffe in what I knew to be a long list of embarassing mistakes. But I knew there would also be more moments to prove my worth to the team, this was just not the game.

We finished with a 50 point victory and a well-enjoyed hour of entertainment. We all had a better understanding of each other's roles, but had no idea how they would fit together to form a team. After a shower and some food I opened the fridge with a bird on the front and pulled out a fifth of our favorite drink, and poured The Greying Writer and myself a shot. He too had not had his best game and we knew only the blood of deer would help us forget. The Once-Balding Italian, our neighbor, crept inside the room, sunk into the orange sectional couch, and started playing FIFA 2003. He had been with his full-bodied girlfriend for most of the night. I was jealous . . .

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Games That Told Us Where We Belonged

The following series of posts will chronicle my first season of intramural basketball at Transylvania University. The stories are true, though may be chronilogically out of order due to the lapse of time. They are done in the style of and as an homage to one of my favorite McSweeneys' contributors.

. . . I was drinking a lot. But most of us where. The winter semester had just started up and most of us were finding it easier to get back in the groove with beers, rather than books, in our hands. Most week nights the campus gym would be filled with a different assortment of pick-up basketball players each vying for a chance to prove they belonged on their respective courts. My friends and I were eager as well. We were freshman and wanted to see how we stacked up against the older competition.

The sudden drop in temperature and shortened daylight hours are a welcomed time of the year for any basketball fan or pale person. Each player has the chance to live out their delusions of grandeur on the court. This would be the first winter season I could focus my athletic attention solely on basketball.

I joined some friends one early January night to play pick-up ball before the Intramural teams were established for the upcoming season. I was joined by The Athlete, The Puppet Master, The Phoenix, The Baseball Player, The Roommate, and Faceman. We found ourselves in a game soon enough, as The Phoenix, The Puppet Master, and were already Juniors and established in the pick-up circuit.

The Athlete was a good friend from highschool who had been better than me at any athletic endeavor we undertook. I secretly loathed him for this, but also enjoyed having such an athletic and loyal friend. He played for the school basketball team, thus ineligible for the intramural season. The Baseball Player was the second best basketball player within our group of friends and also an incredible athlete. He was from Cincinatti, land of the overbearing douchebags. However, he was more reserved, often quiet and unselfish to a fault. He was a dear friend, and I looked forward to playing with him for years to come. The Puppet Master was just below The Athlete and The Baseball Player in terms of skill level, having played a significant amount of organized basketball in highschool. He was a talented offensive player, often evoking highlights of Pearl Monroe when he spun his way to the basket. The Roommate lived with The Puppet Master and was one of the biggest guys in school. He stood about 6'5" with a long wingspan and v-shaped torso. He had large calves and would have been quiet an athlete if not for his timid nature and often clumsiness on offense. The Phoenix was a pure three point shooter. He was a good ball handler and would knock down open shots. Faceman was a do-it-all kind of player, working hard on defense to come up with big stops and get big steals. He was able to bang bodies with bigger guys in the lane and collect offensive rebounds and score easily on put-backs. He was shorter, but very muscular.

These first few pick-up games established three things: 1. The Baseball Player was on the A-League team and most likely its best player. The Puppet Master and The Roommate were perennail A-leaguers and would reclaim their spots on that team. 2. The Phoenix, Faceman, and myself would be playing C-League. 3. Our friend who could not play, The Greying Writer, would also be playing C-League.

Four fraternities and the Independents compete in intramural sports. Basketball is divided into three leagues, A, B, and C. Each fraternity and the group of independents put one team together for the A and B Leagues. A-League usually consists of ex-college basketball players or really talented high school players. There wasn't much drop off to B-League in certain years, and consisted of either high-school players or just talented athletes. C-League was where I would be playing, along with most of my friends. C-League included guys who played basketball recreationally growing up, but were never good enough to play for really competitive teams. Each organization could enter as many teams as it wanted into C-League which created a large range of talent between the top team and the bottom team. We were placed on what was thought to be the most highly talented Independent team, which would compete for a championship that year. I was excited, as I think we all were. We were playing with friends and being coached by The Baseball Player, The Puppet Master, and The Athlete.

I returned to the dorms later that night and found my roommate, The Greying Writer. He was likely eating hummas or rotten cheese, but my memory fails me. His schedule was filling up with a part-time job and a lead role in an upcoming spring play. I worried that his focus would not be on the upcoming season, but decided, so too with my legs, it was better left to rest. I had an hour or two of homework left to do that night. Our couch looked comfortable. Video games also sounded pretty good. Laughing from outside, in the hall, interrupted my thoughts. I went to the hallway and found a small, overweight, shirtless Jew classmate. He was drunk and dancing to Tupac's "California Love" while swinging his rugby polo over his head in a lassoeing motion. I called The Puppet Master on his dorm room telephone to describe the events. He wouldn't have it. He sprinted across campus to witness it himself. Watching the demise of any hope this boy could have for a normal college life, I began to think about the beginning of mine. Our new college friends had all returned to campus and we were anxios to spend the year as established friends, rather than the previous semester of becoming friends. I watched the face of The Puppet Master light up like a boy who had just seen a new bicycle left under the tree by Santa Clause and I thought to myself - This is going to be a great semester.

Friday, May 23, 2008

NBA Mock Draft: If Common Sense Came Into Play

The Lottery:
1. Chicago Bulls - Michael Beasley, Kansas State

I guess the only real debate on the number one pick is whether Beasley or Derrick Rose is a better fit for Chicago. I go with Beasley here for several, not surprising, reasons. First, Beasley has size at 6'10", but he can also play small forward and would be a horrible matchup for most other small forwards in the league. He would consistently destroy gimmick guys like James Posey assigned to guard him. The Bulls have enough pure shooters to free up plenty of space for Beasley to operate either posting a smaller guy up or taking a bigger guy to the basket. Second, the Bulls also lack any kind of inside scoring threat. This would only compliment Noah and Thomas who thrived in college with a legitimate low-post scorer working the other block. They would lead the league in putback dunks after Beasley was double teamed and was strong enough to get a shot off. Third, Rose is good and is going to be great, but how can you pass on a guy that was as productive as Kevin Durant in his freshman year, is surely a better rebounder, and has a more NBA ready body? By the way don't the Bulls have a young guard, Jay Williams, who should be returning from injury shortly?

2. Miami Heat - Derrick Rose, John Calipari's School-of-Hard-Knock's

Even though, as most of you know, I've been a White Lightning, White Thunder, White Chocolate, or whatever his name is, fan for a long time. Jason Williams made it cool to sleep with black girls again. But I think Derrick Rose has to be the second pick here. There has been some talk that the Heat are very interested in OJ Mayo and his now limited entourage. Wade and Mayo would be a great backcourt to watch develop, but they would turn the ball over a lot. Derrick Rose might be the most gifted athlete in the draft. He showed his maturation throughout last season and became a much more gifted point guard than when he entered college. He has shown flashes of Monta Ellis on offense, but has a more complete game given his passing skills. I think he could turn into a nightmare defender for any opposing point guard.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves - Brooke Lopez, Stanford

Luckily, the Timberwolves are so awful they really can't make bad choice here. To me, the pick is either Lopez or Mayo. They need a dependable scorer in the backcourt to work with Foye and Jaric, but I think they would also like to move Al Jefferson to his natural position at the four. Brooke Lopez doesn't immediately make this at .500 team, but is the right pick for the future. Next year, you go for a prolific scorer, and hope Corey Brewer develops into Tayshaun Prince. Then you are setting yourselves up to look like a next-generation Pistons. No too much would be asked of Lopez his rookie year, just rebound and play good defense against the opposing teams best low post player. This lets Jefferson rest his ugly ass on defense, and focus more on becoming a consistent 25 and 10 guy. If Mayo comes in here he is probably pissed he's in Minnesota, tries to do too much, and eventually leaves for a bigger market.

4. OK City Supersonics - OJ Mayo, BDA

I think this is the most logical pick at number four because the Sonics need another backcourt scorer to take the pressure off of Kevin Durant. Mayo has all the skills to play point guard in this league, and provides some highlight reel excitement for a club desperately needing to put some fans in the seats. Mayo is also a much better shooter than I had given him credit for. He shot 40% from three and 80% from the line. He brings some baggage, but I think he has the Kobe mentality of wanting to be the best player in the league someday.

5. Memphis Grizzlies - Kevin Love, UCLA

What can you say here? The Grizzlies need help all over the place. Is Rudy Gay really their best player? Mike Miller led the team in rebounding last year at 6.7 a game and right now their frontcourt rotation is Darko Milicic, Kwame Brown, Hakim Warrick, and Jason Collins. It makes me sick to include Warrick in that bunch because I liked him in college so much, but that is a horrible frontline, no matter who's in the game at any point. I think Kevin Love gives you instant help, and will be a franchise guy for years to come. During his peak years he will average somewhere between 22 and 11, but he will also do the little things that help teams win. I think you go with Love here, and go for athleticism next year, because players like Love don't come around often. He's smart, plays hard, has a chinstrap, and is one of the strongest players with the ball in his hands.

6. New York Knicks - DJ Augustin, Texas

He looked pretty bad against Memphis in the elite 8 last year, but he's been the best point guard in college basketball over the last two years. With Mike D'Antoni now coaching the Knicks I think his first move is to find his Steve Nash, and this may be the best choice for a pure point guard in the draft. He can shoot the three and set up his teammates, and will be a better defender. I don't see any MVP's in his future, but he will be an all-star in the league. The Knicks just have to keep him as far as they can from Stephon Marbury. I really have no idea what the Knicks will do here. Another option is Jeryd Bayless, but he dosn't have the skill set to run the point for D'Antoni's offense.

7. LA Clippers - Jeryd Bayless, Arizona

The Clippers will be looking at the guards in this draft to provide some instant scoring. Elton Brand will be back to good health and he, along with Kaman and Thornton, will shore up the frontline's productivity. Bayless's athleticism is off the charts and his offensive game is very polished. The Clips do have a franchise point guard in Dan Dickau, but I've heard his athleticism is starting to slip a bit with his age and whiteness.

8. Milwaukee Bucks - Joe Alexander, West Virginia

With the emergence of Ramon Sessions during the last month of the season (He averaged 11 pts, 11 dimes, 11 assists, and 11 passes to players who then score in less than two dribbles), I don't think the Bucks will address their earlier needs at point guard. He has won the starting job, and though their backups aren't great guys, this draft class is short on talent at that position. I think the Bucks will look for a small forward here and the best available is Joe Alexander. He emerged during March Madness this year, but showed a very polished offensive game whether he is facing up or posting up. He absolutely destroyed Duke, which makes me pretty high on him. Plus, he only had one year of coaching under Huggy Bear where he was forced to play with his back to the basket, this kid could really develop in a few years. He isn't short on athleticism either as I was watching some workout tapes of him yesterday and he can dunk a basketball! He would add depth to the bucks frontline, but he can also knock down the three and would extend opponent's defense to open the paint for Bogut and Villanueva to have a who's uglier contest.

9. Charlotte Bobcats - Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

Charlotte has a rising star in Gerald Wallace, a favorite for fantasy drafts this year, but they still need some production from their frontline. Okafur is a solid power forward and hopefully the return of Adam Morrison and Sean May will prove to be beneficial, but I think this team needs a true center. Hibbert won't do a lot of scoring for the Bobcats, but he gives them more length on the defensive end, a second shot blocker, rebounding, and great passing out of the post. If Hibbert can start to find Richardson and Wallace cutting through the lane he could be very productive for Charlotte. If not, we will just have another 7 footer with knee and back problems riding the bench for 10 years because a 7 footer has to work somewhere, right?

10. New Jersey Nets - Danilo Gallinari, Italy

Don't know anything about him, but most sites have him as a lottery pick. I hate the Nets so I decided to stick him here. If you know anything about him please feel free to expand on this pick in the Comments section.

11. Indiana Pacers - Eric Gordon, Indiana

Gordon's stock as dropped considerably after his freshman year took a nosedive with the departure of Kelvin Sampson. However, I don't think we can knock him out of the lottery. He has world-class athleticism, a reliable jump shot, and is a really strong guard. I'd like to see his handling improve at the next level and become more of a consistent scorer. He gets to the foul line and will do so at the next level. I think this pick makes sense for the Pacers here because Gordon could also bring the ball up the court. If Gordon was shooting the ball well I think the Pacers could be a very dangerous team. Dunleavy, Granger, and Gordon would give them some great scoring from their 1,2, and 3. If O'Neal comes back they could be a playoff team again as soon as next year.

12. Sacramento Kings - Anthony Randolph, LSU

Randolph has all the size and athleticism you would need in a big man at the next level. He even knocks down a 12-15 foot jumper with strange consistency. Of course, he needs to add weight on at the next level, but I think he has the athleticism to contribute right away. Sacramento really needs to take the best player available here, and can afford to consider somewhat of a prospect in Randolph. He has tons of upside and seems to make the most sense at this pick.

13. Portland Trailblazers - Chase Budinger, Arizona

You have to love what the Trailblazers are doing right now. Oden will be coming back next year, and Martell Webster should be ready to go. Rarely are guys able to keep these young teams together, but they are accumulating enough pieces to eventually make a move on a big-time player to compliment Roy. I think Budinger gives them great lenth at either the shooting guard or small forward spot. He is likely a role player coming off the bench, but has the potential to be much better than what he showed at Arizona. I think Jarrett Jack will give them a solid point guard for next year, and they may look in that direction again in the second round. I think the Blazers need a guy who can knock down open jumpers, has size, but can play on the perimeter to open things up for Aldridge and Oden next year.

14. Golden State Warriors - Russell Westbrook, UCLA

The Warriors like to play small ball (Nellie Ball) and have already reached on project big man with Patrick O'Bryant and Brandon Wright. I don't think they'll make the same mistake twice. Westbrook gives them added size at the point guard position and a reliable outside shot. He would be the best player available at this point and has the athleticism to play with this team. He is great in the open floor and has the quickness to defend well. It's hard to see him getting minutes right away, but could add depth to the Warriors in terms of ballhandling.

So that's the way I'm seeing this draft. I'm not big at all on DeAndre Jordan or Darrell Arthur, and think any team would be reaching if they took them in the lottery. I like Anthony Randolph more than either one of those guys. This isn't a deep class, but I love the top talent of the first give picks. Hibbert, Budinger, and Westbrook, I see as the biggest risks to not see any action for their teams, but I think all are the smartest choice for that team. Please criticize this entire post.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Colts' Harrison Linked To Shooting

As it is being reported on the other sports network (I don't want to mention it's name, as they are our main competitor for your services), it sounds all but certain that Marvin Harrison, the super-productive no-nonsense wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, along with a host of other crimes his actions violated. From the report it appears as if Harrison was in his bar, 'Playmakers,' located in his hometown of Philadelphia, when a gentleman entered the bar and began a heated exchange with Harrison. As the man was leaving, he was shot in the parking lot. He left the scene, only suffering a bullet wound to his hand.

The police have traced the bullets to a gun Harrison owns. The police contacted Harrison at the carwash he owns and Harrison admitted to owning the gun, but claimed it never left his house. The police later found the gun in a wash bucket located directly behind Harrison. Harrison has yet to be charged with a crime and has not returned our phone calls.

However, John Madden offered comment on the situation, saying, "Harrison's a no-nonsense type of player. He's a hard worker, blue collar kind of guy. He just goes out and gets the job done, plain and simple."

Why does Marvin Harrison own a bar and carwash? Why does it sound like he actually spends a lot of time at both establishments in a managerial type role? If an extremely rich entertainer owns a nightclub, I see it being much more of a Frank Lucas in Frank's kind of place. Marvin goes in on busy nights and sits in a VIP area with some friends. The story makes it sound like he was working the bar. I guess Madden, along with every other announcer to ever cover a Colt's game was right - he's just a blue collar type of athlete.

It will be interesting to see how the NFL handles this situation from a legal and PR standpoint. It obviously calls for a suspension if he was the one who pulled the trigger. The next step might be to ban NFL players from nightclubs. It will also be interesting to see who Marvin Harrison passes the torch too as the next humble, hard-working, elite black athlete. My vote is for the sexy Willie Demps...